Filmmaker Kiosa Sukami talks about his Raindance Film Festival nominated short ‘A LETTER TO BLACK MEN’ which has also qualified to be considered for a 2023 BAFTA Award

A popular filmic and televisual genre that has seen many defining works of art cut out a unique niche for themselves, the crime genre is one that has gripped theimagination for its unashamed delve into the darker facets of humanity. The British crime drama scene one that with it has its own distinct style and presence. Adding to a rich body of artistry, videographer Kiosa Sukami presents short film A Letter to Black Men, an examination of gang related crime and its portrayal within the mainstream. Nominated for Best UK Short at this year’s Raindance Film Festival, and making it eligible to be put forward for a possible BAFTA award, Kiosa is well on the way to an exciting chapter of his filmic journey. Currently playing the film circuit, Kiosa tells us more about shattering stereotypes and how the film came to be!

Hi Kiosa, your short film A Letter to Black Menhas been nominated for Best UK Short at Raindance Film Festival and has qualified to be considered for the 2023 BAFTAs. How are you feeling?

I have been on cloud 9 for the past few weeks, it’s honestly unbelievable. I’m sure many filmmakers like myself would kill for an opportunity to showcase their work at festivals like Raindance so to be nominated for a jury prize is an honour I am not taking for granted. As for the BAFTAs, only time will tell – that is a next level game changer and I am keeping everything that can be crossed, crossed!

A Letter to Black Men highlights the life of gang related crimes in the UK and how this is glamourised by film and rappers. What inspired you to explore this topic further?

I’m a big fan of the Crime genre but I can safely say I’m not alone in my frustrations of British gang films and tv shows. Although I frown upon this type of content, there is no denying there is an audience for it. I strongly believe this genre can be just as equally artistic in style as any other films but everything I had seen felt one-dimensional. It got to a point where I was complaining so much about the repetitive and glamorous nature of this type of content that people around me challenged me to make something different to shut me up.

I ultimately wrote this film to educate young Black men, who may be dealing with the pressures that come with growing up in urban areas. It is a personal social commentary film that looks to shine a light and address some of the effects the negative portrayal and actions of Black men in our community have on the younger generation; from the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude to non-existent father figures.

There are many similarities shared with my personal experiences that are shown in the film. People involved in crimes tried to recruit me in county lines; I saw people, like our lead character Black, struggle to adjust within a new world after being imprisoned; the local shopkeeper or ‘boss man’ as we call him, stereotyped us and gave us hassle each time we went in based on his experiences with other Black kids shoplifting; my father gave me a similar speech seen in the film about bad influences not caring about their future, or mine, and the importance of education. The list goes on but I simply took inspiration from these and recreated fictional characters dealing with these in their own way.

The film has been shown at Raindance, British Urban Film Festival, Bolton Film Festival and has been longlisted for a BIFA. How have you found showcasing your film around the film circuit? What has the feedback been towards it?

As a Director, you watch your film a million times over before you ever feel comfortable enough sharing it with anyone or submitting them to festivals for consideration. I now only see things I’d like to improve in the film but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive that we somehow managed to win Best UK Short at Manchester Film Festival too.I did not anticipate our film would ever make it into any of these festivals, so very early on I found myself getting caught out scrambling to send over the right assets in time for screening deadlines.

The actors have received a lot of praise for their natural performances and the music choices have had a few honourable mentions too. Us filmmakers often overlook the life of our work after we complete them but the film circuit has really opened my eyes to all of the possibilities. I have met other creatives, producers and even sales agents who have suggested audiences and strategies to me that I would never have thought of.

I am especially excited to be included in this year’s BIFA longlist. It’s crazy to think such talented people who inspire you to do better can become your peers one day so I am doing all I can to seize this potentially once in a lifetime moment.

The film has been written, directed and produced by yourself, with the support of assistant director Laurelle Jones and cinematography by Miguel Carmenes. How have you all worked together to realise the film?

I could not have made the film without the combination of those two, if I am honest.

I met Laurelle Jones, my assistant director, on set of a friend’s web series a while ago and instantly knew I found a collaborator for life. When she read the first draft of the script, she was honest enough to tell me it was too ambitious and needed to be stripped back. Had I not listened to her advice or let my ego get in the way, who knows if any of the festivals we got into would’ve accepted it, purely for being too long. Laurelle also has this motherly approach to whipping film crews into shape, ensuring the smooth running of a shoot whilst having both the film and crew’s interests at heart. Every minute counts on the set of a film and because the short film was self-funded, I needed the right person in my corner keeping an eye on the clock. She indirectly instilled discipline and confidence into my directing style. I never wanted to disappoint her by going for another take “for safety” when I knew deep down, we’ve got the shot and very little budget. She also attended an early private screening we had of the film and provided amazing feedback to the edit, which we implemented before entering the festival circuit.

My cinematographer, Miguel Carmenes, is really the person we all need to thank for making us look good visually. We didn’t storyboard any of our shots and simply talked each scene through on set before choosing our coverage. I used to self-shoot a lot of my projects because I never trusted anyone to create what was in my head but Miguel lives and breathes all things cinematography so much so that it’s pretty much a sixth sense to him. We met a few years ago when he was finishing off his undergraduate degree. I came to collect some camera equipment I intended to rent from him and he was rambling on for ages about this cool anamorphic lens he had built himself. From the twinkle I saw in his eye I knew instantly it was more than just a career for him and that this was the cinematographer I had been searching for all along. We shot another short film before A Letter To Black Men, called Yolk,  so we could understand each other’s way of working as it had been almost 5 years since my last short. We hit it off straightaway and immediately I knew I could leave him to it to focus on my duties as a Director.

What have you learned/taken away from creating the film?

The most important thing I have learned creating this film is to stay true to yourself. I was working as a freelance videographer at the time so I was always making work with someone else’s vision in mind, or writing films that I thought other people wanted to see. My approach to this film was to make something I wanted to see myself, without caring about whether or not other people would enjoy it. Once I became selfish in my vision in this way, there was no one else I could blame for my shortcomings or anything else I could do but trust the process.

What can viewers expect from the film?

Viewers can expect the same fast-paced entertaining elements of all the films/shows in this genre that have come before but with a sprinkle of witty dialogue, great performances and a thought-provoking visual style that will leave you wanting more.

What would you like for viewers to take away from the film?

Fundamentally I want young Black men conflicted by any issues touched upon in the film to make better choices. Whether that be staying out of gangs, focusing on education or just being present, we can all make a conscious effort to not end up as a statistic in the news and encourage young people to explore new outlets. I would also like viewers who are on the outside of that looking into understand that we all make mistakes. Whether you are Black or not, when you see or hear about things like “gang violence”, “county lines” and “single parent-households” in the media, there is more to it than meets the (stereotypical) eye.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about Kiosa Sukami, visit here…

To find out more about Raindance, visit here…

To find out more about BAFTA, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop